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Growth Mindset

posted Nov 12, 2014, 4:22 PM by Colin Hanel   [ updated Jan 23, 2015, 11:26 AM ]

Have you ever experienced failure? 

Everyone has.

It is how you respond to failure that is critical.  There are two main responses to failure:

  1. This is too hard for me. I give up.

  2. This is challenging for me, but I will keep trying.

This has everything to do with mindset and mindset seeps into every aspect of our life. Especially the classroom.

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), studied the effects of mindsets on learning and intelligence. Dweck’s research focused on the idea of fixed mindset versus growth mindsets. A growth mindset, according to Dweck is a belief system that a person’s intelligence can be developed with persistence, effort, and focus. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is a belief system that suggests a person has a predetermined amount of talents or intelligence.

Dweck studied the effects of praise on student performance. In her study of 400 children, all students were given a non-verbal test. Upon completion of the test, some students were praised for how smart they must have been to have completed the test so well. The other group was praised about how hard they must have worked to do so well. The difference in the praise is critical. One group was praised for intelligence while the other praised for effort.

Then Dweck and her colleagues gave the same students another test. This time they were given two options:

  • Take an even harder test for a challenge.


  • Take an easier test, that is similar to the first and the students were told they would surely do well on the test.

The results of her study was astonishing! Of the students who were praised for their intelligence on the first test 67% of those students chose the easier test. While those who were praised for their effort, 92% of those students chose the more challenging test. Dweck continued with other tests and to learn more about this research watch this quick summary video about it:

What does this all say about learning? Students who are often praised for their intelligence tend to lean toward fixed mindsets. Students with fixed mindsets, when faced with a challenge, may stick to “playing it safe.” Their reaction to failure often leads to giving up, withdrawal, and losing interest. However, students who have a growth mindset understand failure leads to new innovation, hard work, and understand that failure is a part of growth. Students with the growth mindset find value in the power of YET. I might not know this… yet… and with hard work I can learn this.

Can you imagine if Michael Jordan had given up after all these failures?

Helping students understand how the brain works will also help students to understand what it means to have a growth mindset. Neuroscientists explain how the brain is actually malleable. They call this neuroplasticity. Watch this quick video to learn more:

What can we do to help our children have a growth mindset about school and learning?

  1. Help our students to recognize their own mindsets. Have students reflect about how they react to challenges and failures.

  2. Help our students understand what a mindset is. Teach them about the brain and how the brain can change with practice and determination.

  3. Continue to reflect about our "fixed mindset voice." Begin to understand the power of YET.

These tips were found in this video:

Just for fun:

To learn more about Growth Mindset, see the research Jo-Ann Fox and Colin Hanel have put together: